Facebook is slow in developing microtransactions content

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Facebook announced that it is now selling music; a move that I believe took extremely long, given that music was a huge driving force for Myspace and Cyworld. I sometimes don’t understand why Facebook is slow in adopting business models that have already been proven in other markets. For instance, it kind of lost the virtual room model to Zynga (although I suppose if Facebook were to adopt its own virtual room thing it would squash Zynga) a business model fueled by micro transactions. I also don’t know why it hasn’t adopted the micro transactions model for customizable fonts and customizable skins. Since self-representation is such an important factor of social network sites, it only seems to make sense that such elements be hugely popular. Fonts and skins are extremely easy and cheap to produce; these elements may not be adopted by older users but younger users (and perhaps middle-aged women) will definitely be interested.

In a sense, Facebook has it easy because it can adopt business models that have been successful with Cyworld, which is a few years older and only popular in Korea and a couple other asian countries. If that is so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook adding more microtransaction content (like fonts, skins), and introducing services that make it a one-stop browser, which would include adding self-accounting services, subscribing to news, and becoming kind of like iGoogle.

It would also be super cool if Facebook could work with Amazon to put the universal wish list into Facebook so that you can send your friends gifts without having to know their addresses. FB is actually perfect for weddings if there was a wedding app that lets you invite your friends, put up your registry, share photos, etc. (There probably already is one) Would be nice if that could be in place before I get married, hehehe.

The fun factor

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As complicated as games can get these days, I think developers sometimes forget a very important factor that makes games successful: fun. This post was triggered directly by this video, which shows an experiment where the stairs in a subway station were converted into piano keys. After the staircase piano was installed, about 60% of the people going up chose to walk instead of taking the escalator. The theme to this Volkswagen-funded experiment is “Fun changes behavior.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw]

The idea of making non-fun things fun is an old concept– perhaps even something that is unconscious. As a child, I tried to make a game out of cleaning my room, because I really hated doing it. Recent games, however, have tried to tap into incorporating fun with behavioral change– Wii fit, for example, tried to make exercising a fun thing to do. A lot of the educational games are also trying to use games to make otherwise non-fun activities more fun.

Unfortunately, when it is obvious that the game is being used as an effort to make a non-fun thing fun, it lacks the effect. I think this is because developers of so-called serious games are too intent on delivering the positive message that they overlook what people actually like. The Wii Fit, for example, could have been the perfect game for me: I love games, but loathe going to the fitness center. When I get to the fitness center, however, I will happily ride the elliptical for an hour if a fun television show is on. The Wii Fit, however, has me bored after five minutes. Even if I know it may be good for me, I won’t play.

That’s why I frown upon IQ-enhancing games and word games, because other than beating the clock, there really is very little fun involved. But if, for instance, someone made an RPG where I had to use my brain (unconsciously) to advance the level, I would be very happy. That’s why I love the old adventure games like Myst, although to what extent that game improved my problem-solving skills is questionable.

Updates

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I’m doing research on a bunch of interesting things; social science is so fascinating because you’re studying human subjects and their behavior, trying to determine causality and effects by quantitative and qualitative measures. I love how interdisciplinary the area of my study is right now– dipping into psychology, technology, law, economics– and thus constantly feeling that I can’t get enough knowledge into my head. I find the social and psychological aspects most fascinating because unlike many other disciplines, there is no right or wrong; it’s all about giving your best argument. I find it’s very much like investigative reporting in journalism where you sense a phenomenon and then go digging for evidence, only that the measurements that are used are very different.

Currently, I’m doing research on social network sites, social network games, and a super-secret project related to television. I can’t go into details, which is a shame because unlike other fields, in the academic world you can’t claim something is your idea until it’s published in an acclaimed journal, instead of a puny blog like this one.

In the meantime, my multi-author game blog Play As Life is slowly gaining more readers.  It’s a slow, painful project because everyone involved is busy with their jobs. The latest post was an interview with Henk Rogers, they guy who owns the license to Tetris. It’s not as good as the other interviews on the site, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to do an email interview with someone who is already in an established name in the industry.

Interviews

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In the past couple months, I’ve done interesting interviews with people who have some kind of relationship to games for Play As Life. The publication (which is web-based and will be in print twice a year) hasn’t really gotten off its feet yet because we haven’t been able to find the right writers. It is hard to find people who are interested in the culture of gaming although many write reviews. The great thing about this publication, however, is that it allows me to get to know really awesome, talented people whom I would probably never meet otherwise.

You should definitely check out these interviews with:

Eitan Glinert, founder of Fire Hose Games. At MIT, he developed Audi Odessey, a game for hearing-impaired.

Laura Shigihara, composer for the game Plants vs. Zombies.

Pam Taggart, virtual world moderator. She’s kind of like a cyber policewoman for VWs and mmorpgs.

Debbie Goard, designer of kick-ass cakes that have a gaming theme.

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